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Storm Hoping for Continuity in 2009

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | September 25, 2008
Less than 48 hours after the Seattle Storm's 2008 season abruptly ended at the hands of the Los Angeles Sparks with a Game 3 loss in the Western Conference Semifinals, Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler is already looking ahead to 2009 and the opportunity to reach goals that went unfulfilled this season in large part because of the injuries that hit the team late in the season. That much was clear as Agler and CEO Karen Bryant met the media at The Furtado Center just before completing exit interviews with Storm players.

"My thoughts are that we had an exceptional year, played extremely well at home," Agler said, recapping the 2008 season, "but we've got some unfinished business."

A year after the largest offseason upheaval in franchise history saw the Storm purchased by Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., Agler named the third head coach in franchise history and three legendary WNBA veterans added to the starting lineup, this winter figures to offer much more in the way of continuity. While the salary cap will likely make it impossible for the Storm to bring back the entire roster intact, keeping the core group together to try to accomplish what this team could not will be a priority for the Storm.

"I think it's important now that, since we made a lot of changes last year, we have a lot of continuity going into year two," Agler said.

"Everybody that has talked with me would love to be a part of this next year. It would be great for us to be able to get everybody back. A couple things, though - there are some people who are free agents, and when you go through the free-agency market, sometimes people are recruited and sometimes salaries that need to be matched go up. Because of that, it's highly unlikely that everybody exactly will be back, but I would have to say that a majority of the people on this roster we'd like to get back in uniform and build for the future."


"I don't envision Tanisha being anyplace else but in Seattle next year."
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
No free agent looms larger than two-time MVP Lauren Jackson. For the first time in her WNBA career, Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent with complete control of her future. The Storm has already used its core player designation on guard Sue Bird, entering the second year of a deal signed when she was cored, meaning the designation stays with her. When teams can begin negotiating with free agents on Dec. 15 (they can sign them to contracts on Jan. 5), the Storm intends to pull out all the stops to make sure Jackson knows how much she means to the franchise and the city of Seattle.

"I am going to approach the recruitment of Lauren Jackson just like I would approach getting ready for a season," said Agler. "We're going to be aggressive, we're going to be proactive and she's going to have a good feel of how much not only myself and Karen and her teammates but how the fans and the organization want her and need her in Seattle. Let's face facts: There are 13 other teams in the league that would love to have Lauren Jackson. That's just the way of life. But there's not one organization that's going to want her and desire her to be a part of our team more than the Seattle Storm."

"It will be an aggressive strategy, as he mentioned," Bryant added. "The first minute that we are able to engage in material discussions with her, we will be right there. I think it's really important for us to send as strong a signal as we possibly can. No organization is in a better position to demonstrate to her her value to the organization and the community than Seattle. I think that will play huge dividends, and we're hopeful but obviously want to give Lauren the time she needs to reflect on some of the things that she's had to go through this summer and give her the space to really evaluate what her options are and hope that, at the end of the day, she decides that this is exactly where she wants to be."

The Storm's other unrestricted free agent is center Yolanda Griffith, who told reporters she plans to play another season. Griffith, who will turn 39 next March, left open the possibility to looking elsewhere if the situation is not right in Seattle but sounded very much like a player planning to return.

"I like Seattle, and the offer is there," said Griffith. "I just want to not commit right now. I'm going to take my time and talk with my agents a little bit. There's other offers out there, but I like Seattle."

The Storm's other veteran newcomer, guard Sheryl Swoopes, remains under contract but was noncommittal in the locker room after Game 3 about returning at age 38 for her 12th WNBA season.

"I don't know," Swoopes said, "and that's being honest with you. Right now, it's hard to even think about next year. I never know what tomorrow holds. Physically, I feel good right now. If I feel as good as I feel right now later on ... . If I play next year, I definitely will be playing for the Storm. I can say that."

The Storm's restricted free agents include guard Tanisha Wright and center Ashley Robinson, both members of the team's rotation. Wright and Robinson expressed their desire to return, and Agler wants both players back.

"I don't envision Tanisha being anyplace else but in Seattle next year," said Agler. "I think Ashley, there's a couple of things I really like about Ashley right now that I'm not going to mention right now because if I mention it, there might be other people that attract her. I know, talking with Ashley yesterday, she loves Seattle. She considers this really her home. We would love to keep Ashley here."

"This has been my home for four years," Wright said. "The ideal thing would be to be back here in Seattle and playing for the organization, especially with the new owners. This organization is second to none."

STORM CONTRACT STATUS
Under contract for 2009:
Sue Bird
Swin Cash
Katie Gearlds
Camille Little
Sheryl Swoopes

Unrestricted free agents:
Yolanda Griffith
Lauren Jackson

Restricted free agents (Storm has the right to match any offer):
Shyra Ely
Ashley Robinson
Kelly Santos
Tanisha Wright

Reserved players (Can negotiate only with Storm):
Kimberly Beck
Kristen O'Neill

Because of the desire to return much of the roster, adding players is a secondary concern. However, the team will have a first-round pick (currently set at No. 13 overall), which Agler said he's open to trading. The Storm could also dip into the free-agent market to make a key addition. Agler agreed with the suggestion of several players, including Bird and Wright, that the team's biggest need is a backup point guard who can take Wright out of that role.

"Because of (rookie) Kim (Beck) being here for a year, she could be a candidate for that, but there's other people out there too," said Agler. "In fact, there are people out there that have been here before that would be really good pieces for our future and for the 2009 season. We're going to evaluate every situation, but getting more support on the perimeter, especially at the point-guard spot (is very high on the list).

"That person to me needs to be someone that doesn't necessarily just play behind Sue but can play with Sue, because I think as this season played out, we saw what Sue can do on the floor other than just set the table for everybody else."

A wild card for the Storm is the potential return of center Janell Burse. Because Burse was under contract as a core player when she decided not to join the Storm this season, she lost her right to free agency and can negotiate only with the Storm for a potential return in 2009.

"In Janell's situation, there's a strong possibility that she'll either play for the Seattle Storm or she'll take another summer off," explained Agler. "We'd like to have Janell here playing in Seattle and we wouldn't encourage her to go play anywhere else, so that's a decision she'll have to make."

As Agler looks ahead to 2009, he particularly takes confidence from the too-brief stretch of this season when the Storm had its full complement of players, after Camille Little was acquired in a trade with Atlanta and before Jackson was lost first to national team commitments and later to ankle surgery. The Storm played six games with that group and won all of them by double-figures.

"At that time of the season, I thought we were the best team in the league," Agler said. "I truly believe that. If things would have played out that way and we would have had everybody on deck in September, who knows what could have happened? We really feel good about that combination of people and we'd like to try to put it together again."